Reporter's notebook: Covering Clinton in Africa

What to do while waiting in Johannesburg for Bill? Mandela's birthday will do.

"How would you like to travel with former President Bill Clinton through Africa for a week?" my boss, the foreign editor, suggested, in his trademark "nothing, not even a whirlwind week on a private plane across Africa with Bill, is that big a deal" calm tone. I was eating Chow Fun at P.F. Chang's in Boston at the time and almost choked.

But being that I am a seasoned-and-serious-and-unflappable reporter, I replied with equal nonchalance, that it sounded "interesting." I could write, I suggested, something about the phenomenon of Western superstars – be they Mr. Clinton or Angelina Jolie, Bill Gates, or Madonna – taking on Africa's problems. I was, I guess, willing to do this.

Ha! Willing is, well, a wild understatement ... for this is a DREAM assignment, especially for someone like me, whose love for Africa (I was the Monitor's Africa correspondent from 2001-03) and the people of this continent is only surpassed by my total starstruck love for anyone remotely famous. I once saw Lyle Lovett in a cafe in Paris and practically fainted.

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Anyway, I was so excited about the glamorous journey ahead that I arrived for the meeting with Clinton in Johannesburg a day and a half early. As it turns out, I had plenty of other megastars to gaze adoringly at today, as a group of world leaders gathered here to help South Africa's beloved former President Nelson Mandela celebrate his 89th birthday. Come along, I'll tell you all about it....

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